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Topic section: Disability sport
Disability sport
There are many different forms of disability and many  competitions catering for all types of disability whether visual- or
Picture: 02_10318690.jpg
Soldiers wearing artifical legs.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 hearing-impaired, wheelchair bound or limbless. While technology has had an impact on all forms of disability sport, changes in technology have had the biggest impact in sports in which participants use wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs. As with all forms of sport, disabled athletes, use technology but are not dependent on it. Upper body strength for wheelchair racers or a strong arm for javelin throwers still separate the winners from the also-rans when each competitor has equal access to new technology.
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Wheelchair racing.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Wheelchair sport is one of the activities that has been most affected by technological change. The first wheelchairs were effectively giant armchairs on wheels, and weighed 23kg (50 pounds) by themselves. The pioneers of wheelchair basketball in the 1950s began to make modifications to their chairs to make them lighter and more manoeuvrable. They also added pneumatic tyres in order to increase speed, manoeuvrability and traction on the court. From the late 1970s modified polyurethane wheels from skateboards were transferred to basketball chairs as front castors to make them run more smoothly. Such modifications to a wheelchair so that it could be used for a specific sport became part and parcel of design. There are now separate wheelchairs on the market for racquet sports, track and road racing, contact sports such as rugby, and ball sports such as basketball.

As with all forms of sport, disabled athletes, while using technology are not dependant on it

The varying demands for different types of wheelchairs stretches the technological imagination of the designers. Sporting wheelchairs are made of a variety of materials, such as titanium, carbon fibre, cobalt chrome and stainless steel. Various tyres are used, as are different design shapes for the frame to best accommodate the athlete.

At the first official Paralympics in 1960, those amputees who competed wore their everyday prostheses. Since then, there has been a rapid development of specialised
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'Wheelchair Racing' interactive exhibit.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 sporting prostheses, which are designed specifically with sportingperformance in mind and ignore the aesthetic need to produce an artificial limb that looks like the limb it is replacing. These prostheses are built from specialised carbon fibre and titanium. While such lightweight prostheses have led to ever faster times for athletes from industrialised nations, those competitors from the developing world (such as those with high numbers of land mine victims) are reliant on heavy second-hand prosthesis that have been donated to them. It would seem that in disability sport the opportunity to improve performance through the use of new technology is, unfortunately, reliant on access to wealth.

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Topic section: Tennis
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Modern rackets have increased the speed of the ball so much that electronic systems have largely displaced human line judges. Even the ball is the product of technological innovation. But you will need more than the latest racket to beat the top players.  > more

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Topic section: Horse racing
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Horse-racing may seem natural, but from the starting gate to the photo finish it is highly technological. Recent innovations include virtual racing and the cloning of a racehorse. Satellite broadcasting combines with off-course betting to form a multi-million pound industry.  > more
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